by Atul Hatwal
School’s out for summer and after a roller-coaster July its time to look back on performances over the past parliamentary year.
And as is traditional at the end of the season it’s time for some prizes.
Uncut is proud to be awarding prizes in four categories – 2010/11 league champion, top media performer, top House performer and most improved all round performer.
In keeping with Uncut’s Corinthian traditions, it’s not the monetary value of the prize that counts, but the popular recognition.
Handy, since this being a blog, these are virtual prizes and not worth a penny.
2010/11 League champion – Jim Murphy
Jim Murphy has been on top of the league since overhauling Douglas Alexander back in April. While the world was distracted by the royal wedding, Murphy seized his chance.
It is a just return for a prodigious work rate that has seen Murphy balance action in the House of Commons with constant presence in the media.
In the chamber, Murphy has led the way in successfully using urgent questions to hold the government to account.
He has dragged Liam Fox and his cohorts back to the despatch box five times to answer for their actions, including a run between February and May with four urgent questions in as many months.
In the media, Murphy has issued 57 press releases since last October – an average of over 1 a week for the best part of the year.
In every respect, he’s been the very epitome of consistency.
But just as Borg needed McEnroe or Nadal needs Federer, Murphy has been fought all the way for top spot by Douglas Alexander.
In the last two months Alexander has stormed back at Murphy, slashing his lead to just eighteen points. In the last days of July, Alexander’s press releases took him ahead of Murphy in terms of overall media work rate.
But in the end, it just wasn’t enough.
Jim Murphy claims the laurels and is crowned league champion for the 2010/11 session (cue fanfare of horns and confetti).
Top Media Performer – Yvette Cooper
Yvette Cooper has had a very big year.
By the end of the Brown government, she had held a range of major roles but wasn’t seen as one of the absolute front rank members of the Cabinet.
Few were surprised that it was her husband who stood in the leadership election.
It’s all so different now. Since last year’s general election she is the one member of the Brown’s cabinet whose stature has indisputably grown.
Her success has been due in large part to a prolific media work rate.
Since last October Yvette Cooper has put out 64 media releases, amassing 139 points for media effort. She ends the parliamentary year comfortably ahead of all of her peers for media work rate and having established a narrative about cuts to frontline policing that Theresa May has been unable to rebut.
Beyond the sheer volume of media work, one of the defining features of Cooper’s performance has been her ability to step up the pressure on the Tories just when needed.
July has been a pivotal month in terms of the government’s reputation. At this critical time, she has put out fourteen press releases – more than any other member of the shadow cabinet, at any time, this Parliament.
And it wasn’t just hacking that she has hit the government on this past month. As well as pressing on the links between the police and News International, releases have covered rising crime rates, the Forensic Science Service and the closure of Sure Start centres.
Some may say that Cooper’s approach risks over kill, but media coverage is a scarce commodity in opposition. Quantity matters and being available with a line to take and a good quote is a pre-requisite for effective opposition.
Its just one of the reasons that at 7-2, Yvette Cooper is the bookies bet to be next leader of the party.
Top House Performer – Maria Eagle
Maria Eagle is one of the more unfashionable members of the shadow cabinet. She doesn’t have the profile of some of her colleagues and at Transport is in a brief that has been of peripheral news value in recent months.
But what she lacks in stardust, Maria Eagle has made up for in effort. Her total of 413 points for activity in the House of Commons has been built on asking 375 written parliamentary questions over the past year.
Civil servants and Ministers at the Department of Transport must dread the moment each week that the next batch of PQs is delivered.
In the past few months Maria Eagle has been moving steadily up the table, but she kept back her biggest performance for July.
Putting down a gargantuan 144 written parliamentary questions in the last month helped take Maria Eagle up from fourth to third in the table and overtake both Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy in terms of work rate in the House of Commons.
In recent months, she has also upped her media effort, issuing five press releases in the past four weeks. It’s difficult to get the profile at Transport but if she can keep increasing her media work rate to come closer to her stakhanovite efforts in the Commons, she will be challenging to step up into the top two next season.
Most Improved All Round Performer– John Denham
For the first part of this parliamentary year, John Denham was an enigma – a man of clear ability yet posting underwhelming monthly results.
Then in May, Denham sprang to life and since then he hasn’t looked back. From 13th place in March, John Denham climbed to 5th in July.
An analysis of Denham’s performance since the February, when the Alan Johnson reshuffle created the present shadow cabinet, vividly demonstrates the two big step-changes in work-rate first in May and then again in July.
The difference between April and after has been written parliamentary questions – Denham has started asking them. The department for Business, Industry and Skills covers such a broad range of areas, there is a rich seam of information to be mined with PQs to hold the government to account.
And that’s just what John Denham is now doing.
June and July were all about understanding central government procurement – how late it pays its suppliers, how much it spends on things like websites and expenditure broken down by sector.
Denham’s PQs to the different central government departments have forensically constructed a single view of how this administration lives up to its business friendly rhetoric and how much it pays for its services.
In July alone he put down 94 questions. In most other months that would have been the highest number in the shadow cabinet. But July was also when Maria Eagle stepped up her work rate.
What distinguishes John Denham’s performance is balance. He is the only member of the shadow cabinet whose ranking is the same whether looking overall, at just activity in the house or exclusively at his media work.
By stepping up his effort in the chamber, John Denham has achieved absolute consistency at an extremely high level. If he continues at this rate, he will also be vying for the top honours next season.
So there they are, the league awards for the 2010/11 season. With the summer recess beckoning, the shadow cabinet league will be going on its holidays, ready to start again for the new season, perhaps with a reshuffled shadow cabinet.
In the meantime there will be a couple of one-off leagues to assuage any statto withdrawal symptoms.
Watch this space.
Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.